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Moon, revisited

I’m re-reading Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress after lo these many years. Many decades? Been a while.

I’m halfway though and find myself with random thoughts to post on revolution, dated science fiction, “rational anarchism,” and Life. So here goes.


I got the book to brush up on the refinements of cells-of-three systems for the manual on resistance Kit Perez and I are writing.

It’s helpful, but the revolutionaries in Luna end up subverting large parts of their practical cell structure because they have Mike to handle so much.

Mike, for those not familiar with the book, is a sentient computer (and a charmer). And one of four main characters.

The story details a revolution on the Moon (or in Luna, as the characters would prefer we put it). Luna, an Australia-style penal colony whose prisoners eventually become settlers, must first overthrow local Authority. Then its chief revolutionaries must persuade the Federated Nations of Earth (the source of that Authority) to take Luna’s independence seriously. There is no alternative.

The reasoning behind cells of three is definitively stated in the novel, as is the eternal dilemma of underground organizations: If you have good communications, you have poor security; the stronger your security, the more difficult communication becomes.

Kit and I are concluding that this may be even more true in the Internet Age. Cells of three remain as good a way as possible to avoid the worst pitfalls.


Heinlein’s attitudes toward women are (and were, even back then) ludicrous — a combination of embarrassing sexism, profound respect, and total cluelessness. He wrote several books with important, dynamic female characters, often exploring unconventional relationships. Not one of those fictional females ever came across as a realistic person.

I admit I had a hard time finding my way into the book because of the absurd way the author — and his protagonist Manuel O’Kelly Davis — regard one of the other lead characters, the fiery agitator Wyoming Knott. If I were a social-justice pecksniff, I do believe I’d be wanting to burn this book.

Yet Heinlein wrote Moon at a time (1966) when many SF writers barely noticed the existence of women other than as wives, stewardesses, nurses, and secretaries. He’s so far behind the times now that it’s hard to realize he was ahead of the times then.

Given that Luna was/is a penal colony with a 2:1 ratio of men to women, there’s also some justification for the incessant wolf-whistling at Wyoh and the endless comments on her pulchritude. Still grating, though.


Heinlein was also active when virtually the entire SF world saw computers getting bigger, bigger, bigger, and more centralized.

I read a lot of SF back in the day and I recall only one story (an Asimov juvenile) that mentioned a personal computer. But even Asimov missed that bus; the “computer” turned out to be a sabotage implement or a portable spy device. And no, not in the sense that those computers in our pockets are.

Heinlein’s world of 2075-76 also relies (heavily) on wired phones. And although it has surrogate motherhood, it lacks such modern tech as ultrasounds. You notice those things.

So those are the negatives about the book: grating sexism and dumb tech. (OTOH, without the big central computer, we wouldn’t have lovable, clever Mike, or this book. And that would be a great loss.)


Beyond those negatives, whoop-de-do is this still a grand story! And a friendly introduction to individual liberty, the techniques of raising a revolution, and the concept of “rational anarchism.”

The latter is the bailiwick of the fourth major character, Professor Bernardo de la Paz, philosophical mastermind of Luna’s revolution. But a philosopher who’s practical about everyday matters as we first see when he — theoretically a non-carnivore — asks for a serving of “that lovely pink salmon” when it’s really a juicy piece of ham. Hey, he’s been on the run and he’s starving.

Prof is one of the great characters of SF. And where Wyoh, Mike, and Mannie are all to various degrees impossible, Prof is a person libertarians and anarchists the world over could happily emulate.


Some “rational anarchist” quotes from the Prof have become freedomista currency:

“I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”

Here, have some more of the Prof’s wisdom. It was uncommon wisdom back then. Heinlein being ahead of his time once again.

Then there’s that term “TANSTAAFL.”


Heinlein also wrote in the naive belief that even the most hateful thugs of officialdom wouldn’t want to arrest or kill children. It would be too embarrassing to their authority. Too upsetting to those under their thumb.

Sigh. How times have changed.


One of Prof’s tenets (which I paraphrase because I didn’t bookmark it and none of the sites I checked considered it important enough to quote) is that a society that chooses to recognize and deal with facts will survive while a society that can’t face inconvenient realities is doomed.

I think of this as I watch young adults (or their parents) spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on “education” whose prime teachings seem to be that gender sex has no biological basis, that everyone who disagrees with them is racist, that males are surpurfluous at best and born evil at worst, that free speech is only for people with the correct opinions, and that they have a “right” never to hear an unpleasant word or have an “unsafe” experience.


I’ve written several times lately about the importance of relaxing in the midst of chaos, revolution, agitation, or whatever. Moon reminds us not to chill so thoroughly that we forget the need to resist.

It’s dandy to enjoy ourselves. It’s great to focus on preps and such personal things rather than constantly beating our heads against government. But let’s never forget that it’s also our mission to break tyranny, large or small, national or local, by resisting it. By saying no and hell no. By walking around it, tunneling under it, or soaring over it however we can.

Not just to live for our own sakes, but by doing so to screw up the tyranny works and eventually break them down.


Read this book. Re-read it if you haven’t in a while. Once you get past the absurd artifacts of its era, it’s a whopping story and a real inspiration.


  1. brew
    brew February 18, 2018 11:15 am

    [Then there’s that term “TANSTAAFL.”]


    I haven’t read this book since…. college or high school? I may need to revisit it like you suggested…

    In the end, we may have to throw rocks too….

  2. Commander Zero
    Commander Zero February 18, 2018 11:44 am

    ‘Mistress’ is an interesting read but I don’t think it’s Heinlein’s best attempt at promoting his politics and ideas. I think that Starship Troopers is probably the flagship of Heinlein’s beliefs. But…it’s hard, in my opinion, to get really *bad* Heinlein. (Like that joke about how even bad sex is better than no sex.) ‘Mistress’ seemed a little more unpolished than his other works, but it’s still an enjoyable read even though the story is told in the slightly-stilted language style of the main character.

    His take on women is definitely…different. I always liked that he seemed to prefer redheads, much as I do. Surprisingly, for me, I found one of his last novels, “Friday”, to be one of my favorites. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, it might be worth your time.

  3. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty February 18, 2018 12:03 pm

    I recently re-read “Moon” and found many of the same things, Claire. Always enjoy it. If I want to read it again, however, I’m going to have to buy a new book. This one (paperback) fell apart, and the pages got all mixed up. LOL

  4. Desertrat 1
    Desertrat 1 February 18, 2018 12:07 pm

    Having read almost all of Heinlein’s works several times…:)

    At age 83 I’m sorta feeling Lazarus Long-ish. Lotsa BTDT. Time to re-read “Time Enough For Love”. And the for-sure keeper is the book of LL sayings.

    I discovered SF when I started college in 1951. Pretty much worked for freedom for me and mine, ever since. Did pretty well at it, overall.

  5. Claire
    Claire February 18, 2018 12:23 pm

    “even though the story is told in the slightly-stilted language style of the main character.”

    I forgot to mention that. Definitely takes a few pages to get used to the narrative style, but after that it sounded perfectly natural to me.

    “I found one of his last novels, ‘Friday’, to be one of my favorites.”

    I recall that Friday even got a fair amount of mainstream critical praise. But there’s another character who defined Heinlein’s utter, absolute cluelessness about women. Friday (IIRC; it’s been decades) gets raped. And as no woman on earth would ever do, but Heinlein and gazillion men of the era believed was the way to go, “since rape was inevitable” she determined to “lie back and enjoy it.”

    Which is pretty much like deciding to “lie back and enjoy having your face beaten in.”

    I know Heinlein was going where few SF writers of the day wanted to go: into deep explorations of sexual identity and relationships. But really …

    He was amazingly clueless about women and his “liberated” females are fantasies of what he would have like liberated women to be. But with Friday he went so far beyond mere cluelessness it was horrifying.

  6. rochester_veteran
    rochester_veteran February 18, 2018 12:42 pm

    TANSTAAFL, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” 🙂

  7. larryarnold
    larryarnold February 18, 2018 2:39 pm

    I reread Moon early last year, and mostly agree.

    Heinlein was also active when virtually the entire SF world saw computers getting bigger, bigger, bigger, and more centralized.
    I’m not sure Heinlein got it that wrong. Are our PCs really that “personal” given the internet, WiFi, and the cloud? Which way is that trend going?
    And he did invent the waterbed. 😉

    Friday was a high-skilled operative, so her reactions to violence don’t really relate to real women, much in the way I don’t resemble John Wick, et al.

    OTOH Heinlein wrote his most realistic women in his early juveniles. The Menace From Earth springs to mind. My wife was much like Holly. Holly, and Ariel, reminded me of things I needed to know when I was courting.

    Another of my favorite Heinlein women is Podkayne (Poddy) Fries, from Podkayne of Mars.

  8. DistOne
    DistOne February 18, 2018 4:03 pm

    I was hooked on Heinlein at the age of 12. My brother took me to the library (if you can believe the first time!) and I checked out Have Spacesuit Will Travel. Now almost 6 decades later, and after reading all of his books (including the unabridged version of Stranger in a Strange Land) and most of his short fiction, my favorite female character of his remains Mother Thing, the alien cat being from Have Spacesuit. Now that you say it, I see that most were too man-like, with much sexier bodies.

  9. Claire
    Claire February 18, 2018 4:15 pm

    “Friday was a high-skilled operative, so her reactions to violence don’t really relate to real women, much in the way I don’t resemble John Wick, et al.”

    Well, true though it may be that you don’t resemble John Wick and us real-world women don’t resemble Friday, no high-skilled operative would “lie back and enjoy” violent assault. Friday would have been capable of “doing a John Wick” on anybody who attacked her.

    “Enjoy” the attack, she would not have done.

  10. Claire
    Claire February 18, 2018 4:19 pm

    I think I liked Podkayne best of Heinlein’s female characters, too. The early characters were better than the late, in general.

    I envy you guys who more or less grew up on Heinlein. I didn’t even know SF existed as a genre. I found an early book of Arthur C. Clarke stories on my parents’ little bookcase and fell madly in love — but I had no idea what I’d fallen in love with. Later I discovered Theodore Sturgeon. But I didn’t find Heinlein until I as much older. There was Stranger in a Strange Land and Moon, both magic to me. Then when I sought more it was a whole lot of crap (this was at the period when his health and his powers were declining). Never got to any of his juveniles until I was a middle-aged adult.

  11. RW
    RW February 18, 2018 4:30 pm

    Heinlein was born in 1907, me 38 yrs later, the world I grew up in has been destroyed, hard to imagine for him to embrace the feminist views of today but bet that he would. Seems a bit of a cheap shot to harp on things he couldn’t imagine from his point of view from his times. Been a while but have read all he wrote, still one of the best. He would have an easier time visualizing today than we could of his time, mores, values, etc.

  12. Claire
    Claire February 18, 2018 4:57 pm

    “Seems a bit of a cheap shot to harp on things he couldn’t imagine from his point of view from his times.”

    I’d be the last to take cheap shots at a writer for not predicting the future.

    But although the older readers of this blog nearly all know Heinlein, there’s a younger cohort who don’t. I’m recommending the book to them and if I don’t mention its pitfalls up front, they might wonder what the heck I’ve gotten them into. I’m saying, “Read this book in spite of that.” I’m saying, “It’s dated, yet in some ways Heinlein was ahead of his time.”

    When it comes to those strange female characters, though, it’s not a question of his failing to see the future. He was trying hard to depict strong women and interesting relationships. Credit to him for that. But as you say he was of another generation and even for the times his depictions were … odd.

  13. Jim B.
    Jim B. February 18, 2018 7:04 pm

    “Heinlein also wrote in the naive belief that even the most hateful thugs of officialdom wouldn’t want to arrest or kill children. It would be too embarrassing to their authority. Too upsetting to those under their thumb.

    Sigh. How times have changed.”

    Too bad Heinlein didn’t learn of someone like Che Guervara who was known for having killed kids, one of them, shot, in front of his own mother after she begged him to let her son go.

  14. larryarnold
    larryarnold February 18, 2018 7:29 pm

    “Enjoy” the attack, she would not have done.
    I’ll go look. Maybe I unremembered that part.

    Sigh. How times have changed.
    Not really. Treating children like treasures is a recent invention.

  15. larryarnold
    larryarnold February 18, 2018 7:50 pm

    I recently researched the origin of Sunday School for a Regency I wrote. Turns out Sunday Schools were first started in England in the early 1800s. It seems that the children of the era only worked six days a week in the factories, and when they got Sunday off they tended to be boisterous. The English churches of the era hit upon the idea of holding school on Sunday, to provide a little education and mainly to keep the urchins off the streets. (Upper class children, of course, were basically home schooled.)

    In the U.S., children were working 70-hour weeks in the 1920s. It was not until 1938 that Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act. It fixed minimum ages of 16 for work during school hours, 14 for certain jobs after school, and 18 for dangerous work.

    Note that England and the U.S. are democracies, where the government cares about what the people think.

  16. Scott
    Scott February 19, 2018 3:48 pm

    I haven’t read that since 6th grade (1974) I recall, a sentient computer named Mycroft was involved in the revolution. One of the main characters was trying to teach it a sense of humor, with unpredictable results.
    Didn’t Heinlein predict web addresses..sort of? Phone numbers(that could access Mycroft) that spelled out business names? I need to reread the book sometime..

  17. Claire
    Claire February 19, 2018 3:53 pm

    You remember right, Scott. “Mike” is actually “Mycroft” and the other characters do use alphabetical codes to phone him.

    Whether that exactly qualifies as predicting web addresses, I don’t know. But while the revolutionaries used null codes to reach Mike, businesses could indeed pay to have their company names or slogans or other words used as their phone “numbers.”

  18. lairdminor
    lairdminor February 19, 2018 4:02 pm

    I’ve re-read Mistress fairly recently (within 5 years) and plan to do so again. It is a great book, but I agree not Heinlein’s best. I might put Stranger in a Strange Land up there. Not, I think, Starship Troopers; too jingoistic. Glory Road is fun. I loved all his juveniles; grew up with them in the 60’s. And I was never comfortable with his treatment of women or his views on sex, which is probably why I’ve never warmed to his later novels (including Friday). (And of course, the less said about the posthumously published works the better; there is a reason he left them in the drawer! His literary executors did him no favors.)

  19. bud
    bud February 20, 2018 11:51 am

    ST jingoistic? I prefer “realistic” in terms of the utility and effects of violence… and maybe unrealistic in terms of the possibility of an all-volunteer military where you can quit at any time.

    Perhaps your view has been distorted by the abominable movie?

  20. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 24, 2018 11:32 am

    The second half of the Heinlein biography said he had an open-ish marriage with each of his wives, which included L. Ron Hubbard. I think the ‘no thanks, you’re handsome but I’m not into men’ I remember from some book was from personal experience.

    What would be very interesting is the truth of how his wives perceived him. Which parts they agreed with and which parts they didn’t contradict because it wasn’t worth the hassle. Human sexual-emotional relations are on average not symmetrical; there is a difference between genders. Many women are attracted to dominant men, and the fact that he was often wrong doesn’t reduce his dominance.

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